Friday, May 30, 2014

That Awesome Moment When You Finish Your Manuscript

The other day I let out a big sigh. After 13 months of constant writing and editing; after multiple revisions and three drafts; after transferring ideas from my creative mind into 98,000 words on my computer screen; and after many hours of wondering whether anything would ever come out of my efforts; I realized that I had actually and most definitely completed the manuscript of my next novel.

What a high! What a sense of accomplishment. What a proud moment, such an awesome moment.

And then, reality set in. What if what I had written was no good? What if the plot didn't make sense? What if the characters were unbelievable?

I couldn't let my achievement go to my head. From the pinnacle of my literary success, I nose-dived into uncertainty and self doubt. What would others think of my book?

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

10 Places You Must Visit in Bulgaria

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofial
It's quite amazing that Bulgaria is off the beaten track for Western tourists, as the country has a bit of everything, and all at affordable prices. A recent addition to the European Union, Bulgaria is trying hard to catch up with the modern world, yet authentic Eastern European traditions and cultures remain.

Mountain slopes in Bansko and Pomporovo attract skiers in the winters; the Black Sea beaches are full of beachgoers in the summer months. Sofia is not your most beautiful capital city, but once you get out into the countryside, you'll fall captive to Bulgaria's special charm.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Camels, Water, and Desert Romps

In When Camels Fly by NLB Horton, an archaeologist shoots her daughter's abductor. Disaster threatens not only them, but the entire Middle East. Who will save the day?

I am an avid reader of fiction that takes place in my part of the world so I was eager to get my hands on a copy of this book. It's obvious from the writing that the author has spent time here, getting to know the lay of the land enough to be comfortable fictionalizing parts of it in her novel, which I found quite innovative.

So much is written about the world's dependence on oil from the Middle East, yet remarkably little appears in print (non-fiction as well), about the water situation in this region. Israel has developed quite an advanced water economy, but not so its neighbors. There is a very real potential for water wars in the near future.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Dear Mr. Editor

Looking back at the Yiddishkeit of New York City's Lower East Side, we tend to view the American Jewish immigrant experience with rose-tinted glasses, imagining how excited and industrious the arrivals must have felt after coming to their new homes. But the reality of crowded housing and heated sweatshops made it clear that the New World's streets were not paved in gold, raising many questions and uncertainties in the immigrants' minds.

There was no better place to turn to than the Yiddish-language Forverts (The Forward), which came to be regarded as "the voice of the Jewish immigrant and the conscience of the ghetto." Founding editor Abraham Cahan not only turned the paper into one of America's premier metropolitan dailies, he also spoke directly to Jewish immigrants and their personal problems through his popular advice column, the Bintel Brief.

As stated on the Forward's website, "In thousands of Jewish households across the country, the Forward was for decades more than just a daily newspaper - it was a trusted guide and a member of the family."

Monday, May 12, 2014

Immigrants in Our Own Lives

Zachary Lazar's novel I Pity the Poor Immigrant evokes a sense of nostalgia for places you've never been, for homes you've never had.

Like other book reviewers before me, I've given a certain amount of thought to the title of Zachary Lazar's third novel, I Pity the Poor Immigrant (Little, Brown and Company, April 2014). Fans of Bob Dylan, and I am not included among them, will connect the title to the song featured on the singer's 1967 album 'John Wesley Harding'. Perhaps the title was chosen because of this particular phrase in Dylan's haunting lyrics: "I pity the poor immigrant / Who tramples through the mud / Who fills his mouth with laughing / And who builds his town with blood."

One of the characters in this novel is Meyer Lansky, a central figure in American organized crime. During the 1940s, Lansky and his associate Benjamin 'Bugsy' Siegel persuaded leading Mafia investors to back the construction of the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas. Following endless delays and huge cost overruns, Siegel was shot and killed in Beverly Hills. The Flamingo, forerunner of all the Vegas glitzy resort hotels, played a starring role in the history of a town built with blood.

Friday, May 9, 2014

A Visit to Mount Zion

Just outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem is a hill that is holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. This is Mount Zion, mentioned in the Bible as being part of the Jebusite stronghold captured by King David and his capital city. As written in the book of Samuel, "David took the stronghold of Zion: the same is the city of David." The hill's name 'Zion', (Tsiyon in Hebrew), later became synonymous with the Land of Israel, and the source of the term Zionism.

Mount Zion is regarded as the traditional site of King David's Tomb, as well as the room of the Last Supper. Surprisingly, the two are located in the same building, one flight of stairs apart.

A visit to Mount Zion is a serene escape from the hubbub of Old City tourism, although many pilgrim groups and visitors do come to see the holy sites on this hill.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Fields of Anti-Semitism

Nora Gold's debut novel Fields of Exile is set on the academic battleground, pitting Israeli supporters against Israel-haters. Will anyone fight back?

Judith Gallanter desperately wants to be in Israel. "Israel was the only real love of her life" and that love is unconditional. Because her father has taken ill, she has returned to Toronto to care for him. As his condition worsens, she agrees to stay in Canada and complete a master's degree program in social work. After her father dies, she is committed to academic studies in Canada, but her heart is in Israel.

She enrolls in the Dunhill School of Social Work and "presto! she has a life. An instant life. Just add water and stir. People to be with. Things to do." But when the lectures bore her, she fantasizes about life, and love, in Israel.  She can't help but feeling that she is living in exile.